Many Cal alumni, faculty, staff, students and members of the community feel that Cal Poly’s administration has not done enough over the years for vulnerable groups on campus.
There is a sense that Cal Poly’s current administration bears a unique burden to shoulder the sins of this past and needs to make concrete gestures to demonstrate its commitment to inclusivity and diversity. Here is one of those opportunities.
In January 2016, the Muslim Student Association of Cal Poly welcomed more than 1,000 of their fellow Muslim students from across California to our campus for a weekend of talks and workshops about Islam and its place in contemporary America.
Organized entirely by Cal Poly students, the conference was a testament to all that is good and hopeful about our university: students coming together to improve their community and create a more peaceful world.
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Occurring on the heels of the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Cal Poly’s administration feared there might be violence or protests at the event, and thus they required about $5,000 of special security that would be charged to the club. The resourceful students dedicated much of their time to fundraising, from both within Cal Poly and outside of it, to defray this and the other expenses to ensure the conference would be financially accessible to all students in California. Leading up to the conference, Cal Poly was very supportive.
About a year later, the Cal Poly College Republicans brought activist Milo Yiannopoulos to campus.
Fearing violence and protests, the university required special security to the tune of more than $54,000. The College Republicans were neither asked to pay for these expenses nor bear the burden of raising such funds. Cal Poly’s spokesman publicly claimed they never charged clubs for their own security.
The Tribune brought to the attention of the administration the parallel case of the Muslim Student Association conference. While the two events are not direct parallels, it appeared a double standard was applied, either intentionally or unintentionally.
The Tribune offered the administration a chance to respond. Here was one of those opportunities to apologize and affirm their commitment to treating all students equally, regardless of gender, religion or the color of their skin. Instead, the administration chose to offer a series of excuses that became increasingly grasping over the course of the week.
Initially, they argued that the Milo event was a “free speech activity protected by the First Amendment” and the Muslim event was not. However, all public speech is free speech and the protection of religious freedom is central to the First Amendment, too.
Next, the administration argued that the Muslim students partnered with an outside organization to have their event and thus it was different. However, the entire MSA event was organized by Cal Poly students through their club and the College Republicans partnered with outside organizations such as Breitbart to bring their speaker.
Finally, after a week of bad press, the administration “discovered” that there was a secret change in policy last September that said student clubs would no longer be charged for security costs.
However, none of the parties responsible for planning the Milo event — the Office of the President, the Office of Student Affairs, the Associated Students and the College Republicans — seemed to be aware this policy until just this past week.
The university wants us to believe that despite being unaware of the policy, it dictated the decisions of all the parties involved? Such a position is equally incredulous.
With this incident, Cal Poly administrators have a unique opportunity to make a concrete gesture to signal to alumni, faculty/staff, students and the community that all students should be treated fairly, be listened to and feel safe. Instead of offering excuses or hiding behind administrative technicalities, I invite them do something that seems rather alien in this current political environment: Apologize and work with the Muslim students to use those same funds to create an event that would once again be a testament to all that is good and hopeful about our university. Together, we can do better, but only if the administration agrees to join hands with all the vulnerable groups on campus.
An online petition with Change.org has been signed by more than 1,000 people to encourage them to see this viewpoint.
Stephen Lloyd-Moffett is a professor of religious studies at Cal Poly and the club adviser to the Muslim Student Association.